[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] before fighting (over Caligula) - with the owner's brother-in-law, director Tinto Brass, where Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham, Charlie Chaplin and the Aga Khan used to gather, where one night in 1935 four of Europe's crowned heads were present - at separate tables - in the same room, and where, after World War II, Ernest Hemingway often held court.
They come for drinks because Europeans still prefer aperitifs and even today many famous restaurants make cocktails awkwardly if at all. Harry's Bar makes very good drinks. The food is special, too. Hamburgers, good-sized and juicy, may be more popular with European than American customers. It's understandable. Unless they are victims of a Big Mac attack, the visitors are unable to ignore the veal and fresh fish entrees, a magnificent cart of desserts and expresso poured into large rather than tiny cups.
The real legend of Harry's Bar, however, is not Ernest Hemingway or any of his cronies, but the Ciprianifamily. They started the place in 1931 and went on to found Italy's best-known gastronomical dynasty (Harry's, the Locanda Cipriani, the Hotel Cipriani and l Postigione in the Venice area, Villa Cipriani in Asolo and affiliates in Naples, Pisa and Milan) and to provide the inspiration for several others.
Today the small Cipriani empire is run largely by Arrigo (Italian for Harry) Cipriani, 45, a lithe, vigorous man with a black belt in karate who favors crew cuts and dark double-breasted pinstripe suits and who is fond of saying, "I bet I'm the only man in the world named after a bar."
Arrigo, as the regulars call him, personally supervises every aspect of Harry's management from overseeing the quality and freshness of its meat, fish and vegetables, to supervising the small kitchens and their eight chef and - no mean feat in strike-prone Italy - keeping the restaurant's staff of 40 happy.
He also spends ample time circulating among his customers taking their orders, and smoothing ruffled feather. "Isn't it you who makes the table and not the table that makes you?" he once asked a couple unhappy with their seating.
Arrigo, who has been in business for 25 years, keeps the decor simple ("People are the real furnishings in this place"), changes the furniture so gradually that even seasoned customers are hard-put to notice that the thing in the room longest is the sketch of a barman holding a cocktail shaker that is imprinted on every Harry's menu and astray.
Nevertheless, the real spirit of the Cipriani empire is still the Commendatore , 77-year-old Giuseppe Cipriani, who started it all when he opened Harry's in May 1931, and still keeps Arrigo on his toes.
Back then Cipriani - whose 19-year-old granddaughter, Carmela, is now beginning to learn the business - was the chief barman in the nearby Europa Hotel. The son of an unskilled laborer from Verona, Giuseppe found work first as a pastry chef and later as a waiter!
Bartender Cipriani befriended and loaned money to a young Bostonian who had run out of drinking funds, thereby making the best investment in his life. The next time Harry Pickering came to Venice, he not only repaid his debt, but offered Cipriani a $5,000 loan and a partnership that lasted until 1940 to fulfil his long-standing dream of opening "a hotel bar outside of a hotel."
The result was "Harry's Bar." Soon, however, the "bar" was serving broiled scampi and rice, risotto alla primavera (rice with butter, cheese, and barely cooked vegetables) and taglierini verdi gratinati (green noodles with cheese) to hungry customers too lazy to go on to dinner elsewhere.
Some time later, in 1961 - shortly after he opened the upstairs dining room with its view of the Grand Canal and San Giorgio Island - Cipriani had another inspiration. To please a customer forbidden to eat cooked meat and bored with steak tartar, he invented carpaccio (after the Italian Renaissance painter of the same name). He cut young beef in slices, pounded them paper thin and garnished the plate with light, homemade herb mayonnaise.
Carpaccio , like Harry's with its two Michelin stars, has become known to gourmets the world round. But for Cipriani devising new dishes never has been enough. After World War II, an old tavern on the nearly uninhabited island of Torcello was turned into the Locanda Cipriani , a charming inn where Hemingway wrote most of "Across the River and Into the Trees."
The Locanda, whose specialties include homemade canneloni, ristto with inkfish, and liver Venetian style, has five elegant honeymooner suites, which now cost about $45 a night with full pension. It is open from mid-March to early. November and is to be avoided only on sultry summer nights when the localzanzare (mosquitos) decide to have a feast of their own.
Next came the lovely resort-like Cipriani Hotel on the Giudecca Island across from San Marco Square.
Through their management (since 1962) of the small luxury Hotel Villa Cipriani in Asolo, about 40 miles north of Venice, the Ciprianis have kept their hand in the hotel business. And they are also the consultants for the famed dining room at Milan's luxurious Palace Hotel, and will be acting in similar capacity for the Hotel Excelsior in Naples and the Cavalleri in Pisa.
"We get about six requests a week from retaurants and hotels throughout Italy," says Arrigo, "and sometimes - for love not for money - we simply can't say no." One recent occasion in which the Cipriani's said "yes" was when one of their good customers, clothing manufacturer Guido Robazza, asked them to pitch in and help him do something with the old Postiglione Inn where he was born in Marocco, a few miles outside of Mestre, Venice's mainland sister city.
Eager to conserve Harry's secrets, both of the Ciprianis are vague when it come sto recipes. According to one close friend, the Commendatore best explained his point of view on that subject when a Venetian countess eager to duplicate one of his risottos for a dinner party, complained that Harry's personnel had given her cook the runaround.
I understand how you feel, contessa," he told her sadly. "Just think, I wrote to the Cinzano people five years ago asking for an aperitif recipe, and I still haven't gotten an answer."